I’m not a fan of Auteur Theory. Movies, television, and video games have so many people involved in the process of creating them that putting all the weight of a work’s success on a single person weakens the contributions of everyone else in the project. That said, a good director can make a world of difference on a film, not because of their sole artistic vision, but because of the other contributors who they can ask to take part in the project because of their own past experience. Such is the case with In The Line of Duty 4, which has Yuen Woo-Ping in the director’s chair, which in turn makes a world of difference.
In The Line of Duty 4, as something of a first for the series, keeps the character of Leung Lai-Ching (Cynthia Kahn) as the protagonist, this time working on an investigation involving drug smuggling from Hong Kong to Seattle (with Vancouver, BC doubling for Seattle). While investigating the case she, her American counterpart Captain Donnie Yan (Donnie Yen), and informant Luk Wan-Ting (Simon Yuen Yat-Choh) end up getting caught up in a conspiracy involving the CIA that leaves them questioning who they can trust.
On the one hand, the movie’s plot does feel like it’s hitting a few of the same beats as Yes, Madam. Western and Hong Kong cops working together to deal with an entrenched conspiracy involving organized crime and government, with a B-plot involving an ordinary Joe caught up in the middle of a dangerous situation. However, there is a stronger sense of confidence in this movie than there was in Yes, Madam. This particular genre of film (the Lady Inspector Cops & Robbers movie) had become much more popular at the time, and Cynthia Kahn’s previous film in the series had apparently been a success. Consequently, the two plots are much more balanced, as opposed to Yes, Madam putting the narrative focus on the “ordinary schlub” plot.
The fight choreography also feels more confident, particularly related to Kahn. Lai-Ching gets as good as she gives here, as opposed to in the previous film, where the choreography felt like they didn’t want to have the lady lead get hit, in favor of having her just experience setbacks that caused the antagonists to get away or accomplish a goal. This is helped in particular that her hair is just a bit longer, so when she sells a hit, we get the movement of her hair, and it’s just long enough that if a stunt-person needs to get involved, there’s something to hide the double. I appreciate what the previous film was doing, and I do think that it’s good for a film to establish stakes in a fight other than “the protagonist will get knocked out/injured/killed/whatever” from a narrative tension standpoint.
However, I think it’s important in fight choreography to have a protagonist who can take some hits – it builds up the menace of the antagonist and creates a sense of additional tension for any fight that the protagonist is in. It’s why Steven Segal’s movies are so lacking in tension, when the hero goes through every fight without a scratch and gets through every fight without them taking any sort of toll on him, not only is there no question that he’ll get through the last fight but the question “How will he get through this?” is no longer interesting, because he’s never had to be in a position where he has to demonstrate inventiveness.
Additionally, Donnie Yen is absolutely fantastic in this film. Kahn’s films in the series thus far have kept with the female-lead/male-sidekick(s) structure from Royal Warriors on, and he’s a solid addition. He and Yuen Yat-Choh both have really strong chemistry with Kahn, and also with each other, but without the film unnecessarily shoving a romance into the movie.
I think where the film runs into a couple of issues is it gets into territory where we have a few… Diabolus ex Machina events that make the ending a little more muddled than it needs to be. The incriminating film is just randomly lost and forgotten, with the loss being mentioned in a throwaway line of dialog, that sort of thing. It’s a frustrating decision, and it really doesn’t help the movie much.
Ultimately, In The Line of Duty 4 was a fun action romp, and was a great way to spend an evening.
Currently, the film is available for streaming on Plex Streaming and Amazon Freevee (buying anything through the Amazon link supports the blog). Currently, it’s only available dubbed, but the Freevee release does have closed captioning that the Tubi release lacks.
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